Where to Get Help for Bulimia
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Many people spend their whole lives struggling with body image issues. They feel bad about themselves and constantly go on and off diets. Other people develop dangerous eating disorders such as bulimia.
Bulimia is treatable. Many people who suffer from bulimia go on to live healthy lives with normal attitudes about food and body weight. But this type of eating disorder usually requires professional treatment. People with a friend, family member, or spouse with bulimia may be unsure how to help the person or where to find treatment.
Learn more about:
- How to recognize bulimia
- Where to get help for bulimia
- How to decide between bulimia treatment options
- How to talk to someone with bulimia
- Helping someone with bulimia
- Finding bulimia treatment for a friend or family member
Bulimia is an eating disorder characterized by:
- Binging, which means eating a large amount of food (often very quickly) over a short period of time.
- Purging, which means trying to prevent weight gain through forced vomiting, taking laxatives, and exercise.2
People with bulimia feel a loss of control during an episode of binge eating.1
Bulimia is often difficult to detect because people usually binge and purge in private. Unlike people with anorexia, people with bulimia are more commonly within a normal weight range, though they can be both thin and overweight. Put simply, people with bulimia are afraid of gaining weight, they want to lose weight, and they are unhappy with the shape and size of their bodies. 2
Other bulimia signs and symptoms include:
- Evidence of binge eating, such as disappearing food or empty wrappers.
- Frequent trips to the bathroom after eating.
- Signs and smells of vomiting.
- Packages of laxatives or diuretics.
- Rigid exercise regime in spite of bad weather, illness, or injury.
- Odd swelling of cheeks or jaws.
- Discoloration, staining, or “clear” teeth.
- Calluses on hands and knuckles from induced vomiting.
- Lifestyle changes to make time for binging and purging.
- Withdrawal from normal activities.
- Being obsessed with weight loss.
- Moodiness, depression, anxiety, or behavioral changes.
- Distorted body image (thinking that one is fat when one is not).
- Substance abuse problems.1,2
Concerned about your eating habits? An Eating Disorder Self-Assessment can guide you. Our knowledgeable treatment support advisors can help you find a treatment program that meets your needs. Call our helpline today at to speak with an advisor about your options.
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Where to Get Help for Bulimia
Bulimia is extremely damaging to the body and can cause psychological harm. Physically, people experience symptoms such as dehydration, tooth decay, and heart failure. Psychologically, bulimia contributes to self-esteem problems, anxiety, and major depression. Fortunately, there is help.2
You can help someone with bulimia by learning about the different treatment options available. The following is a brief description of various bulimia treatment programs:
- Hospitalization: In severe cases, the person with bulimia may need emergency medical treatment (ex., the person is suffering from electrolyte imbalance, severe weight loss, or suicidal thoughts). Doctors monitor vitals, look for medical complications, and provide IV fluids for dehydration and electrolyte imbalances.3
- Inpatient residential treatment: People live at the facility and receive 24/7 medical care, psychotherapy, and nutritional support. Residential treatment works well for people who are medically stable but need ongoing psychiatric care and may not be ready for or responding to outpatient treatment.3
- Outpatient treatment: Outpatient bulimia treatment programs range from intensive part-time programs to weekly therapy in a private office. Outpatient works well for people who no longer require daily medical monitoring and are psychologically stable enough to make independent progress toward recovery.3
- Luxury treatment programs: These are residential inpatient programs or intensive outpatient programs that offer high-end amenities in addition to conventional treatment. Amenities can include upscale lodging, swimming pools, spas, massage, yoga, acupuncture, and other alternative treatments.
- Executive treatment programs: These are inpatient residential and intensive outpatient programs designed for working adults suffering from bulimia. They may offer flexible schedules to allow professionals time to continue to focus on their work lives. In addition, they may offer amenities such as conference rooms and work spaces.
- 12-step programs: People with bulimia and their families organize these peer-to-peer groups to support one another’s recovery. They follow a similar 12-step recovery protocol to that of Alcoholics Anonymous.
Deciding Between Bulimia Treatment Options
The severity of the person’s condition is the most important factor to consider when choosing how to help someone with bulimia.
Some things to think about when looking for help for bulimia are:
- Severity of physical condition: Is the person medically stable? Do they need daily medical monitoring? Daily nutritional support?
- Severity of mental condition: Is the person psychiatrically stable? Are they a suicide risk? Can they function normally in society? At home? At work?
- Duration of symptoms: Has the condition been going on for a long time? Is it getting worse very rapidly?
- Duration of treatment: How much time is the person able to commit to their recovery program?
- Insurance: What kind of health coverage does the person have, if any? What is the insurance company willing to pay for? How long will coverage last?
- Out-of-pocket costs: What can the person afford out-of-pocket? Will they need to take time off work?
- Location: Does the person want to be near their home for treatment? Do they want a luxury environment, such as the desert or the beach? Or a private office setting in a convenient location?
Helping someone with bulimia can be difficult. If you need help choosing a bulimia treatment program, call a helpline specialist today at .
How to Talk to Someone With Bulimia
If your friend or family member needs help for bulimia, consider these tips before approaching them about their problem.
- Schedule a time to talk: Find a time where you and your loved one can talk in a private place where you won’t be distracted.
- Tell them you are worried: Be honest. Tell the person that you are concerned about their eating habits. Tell them you’re afraid they might have a serious problem that requires professional help.
- Ask them to talk to a professional: Offer to help the person find a counselor, doctor, or treatment program that deals with eating issues. Offer to go with them to their first appointment.
- Don’t give simple solutions: Don’t say things like, “You just need to stop.” Instead say, “It makes me afraid when I hear you throwing up.”
- Prepare for denial: Many people don’t want to admit they have a problem even if they know their behavior is unhealthy.
- Prepare for a negative reaction: Some people will be glad you noticed that they are struggling, but others may become hostile and defensive. They might turn it around on you and say things like, “You’re the one with the problem!”
- Use “I” statements: Focus on your observations. Say, “I’ve seen you running to the bathroom after meals.” Don’t make accusations that might cause someone to respond defensively, like, “You aren’t fat! What’s your problem?”
- Avoid talking about appearance: People with bulimia often can’t speak rationally about their appearance because they have distorted views of their bodies.
- Rehearse what you want to say: Emotions can run high in these discussions, so it helps to prepare. Write down the main points you want to make, behaviors you have observed, or reasons why you are concerned before you talk to the person.4
Helping Someone With Bulimia
It can be frustrating to watch someone you love struggle with an eating disorder. Here are a few tips for how to support a loved one with bulimia.
- Educate yourself about bulimia.
- Ask what you can do to help.
- Don’t be critical or judgmental.
- Be patient. The road to recovery is long and winding.
- Avoid any discussions about weight, food, or eating habits – especially your own.
- Be a good nutritional role model. Demonstrate healthy eating and exercise habits.
- Help with scheduling treatment and transportation to appointments.
- Encourage the person to follow through on treatment recommendations.
- Avoid telling someone what they should do.
- Distract a loved one during and after meals to help reduce anxiety.
- Arrange activities that are not centered on eating.
- Don’t take anger or defensiveness personally.
- Validate their feelings and emotions even if you don’t understand them.
- Set boundaries for yourself. Don’t let your loved one’s recovery consume your life and mental health.4
Find Bulimia Treatment for a Friend or Family Member
If you or your loved one is suffering from bulimia, we can help you find the treatment you need. Our knowledgeable support staff is available 24/7 to help you find the best treatment program possible. If you’re suffering from depression, you’re not alone. Take the first step towards healing by taking a free online depression quiz.
Call our helpline today at to speak with a treatment support specialist about your options.
Read next: Bulimia Symptoms, Causes, and Effects
. National Eating Disorders Association. Bulimia nervosa.
. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2012). Bulimia nervosa fact sheet.
. National Eating Disorders Association. Treatment settings and levels of care.
. National Eating Disorders Association. (2015). Parental toolkit version 3.0.